Suggested listening:
"It Is What It Is" by Adam Again
"I Feel Nothing" by Havalina

It Is What It Is What It Is


Michael Walker

"The what?" Giles demanded. He was stupefied.

"The Chevaliers du Croix. The Knights of the Cross." Stefan Warner knelt to check on the condition of the would-be assassin he had subdued.

Giles waved his hands. "I heard you. But that's impossible. The Knights are... are a legend, completely fictitious." He felt more than a little ridiculous, standing outside his apartment and discussing arcane points of occult lore by the yellow glow of the streetlights.

Warner stood. "Yeah. As opposed to an ancient secret society whose members are dedicated to guiding and training the one girl in all the world who's called to fight evil. Right." He cocked a mocking eye in the Watcher's direction.

Giles huffed and puffed and tried to wax indignant, but he couldn't.

"Listen, I hate to interrupt, especially when it looks like y'all are about to measure whose is bigger, but we have more immediate concerns." Matti Hollis stood with her left hand on her hip and the tranquilizer pistol hanging from her right. "I think we better do something about these two before the neighbors begin to talk."

"True." Warner bent down and pulled the groggy assassin to his feet. Hollis turned and jogged away. Giles stared at them, a stunned look on his face.

"What are you doing?" he finally stammered.

"Look, we told Gerard we'd keep an eye on you. We didn't say we'd stand on your front lawn waiting for a neighbor to notice the two guys we took out." The amber glow of running lights washed over Warner's face. "Here we are."

Matti Hollis pulled up in Toyota 4Runner. As she got out she tossed a black bag to Warner. He took out shackles and secured the two prisoners. The teachers locked the shackles to rings in the SUV's floor and covered the men with a tarp. Giles felt his brain finally kick into gear.

"I remember that there was a particular insignia that supposedly identified the Knights," Giles said.

"You mean this?" Warner grabbed the hem of his long-sleeved black T-shirt and pulled it over his head. In the glare of the headlights there appeared to be a brilliantly colored tattoo of a Maltese cross high on the left side of his chest. The stained-glass effect was not the result of pen and ink, however; as Giles looked more closely he could see corrugated ridges of flesh criss-crossing the design. It was a brand, the pigments worked into the tissue while the wound was fresh and unhealed. Giles winced at the thought of the pain such a mark would produce.

"Yeah," Warner said as he pulled his shirt back on. "It stung." Giles eyes went to Matti Hollis.

"Oh, I got one too," she said. "But you'll have to take my word for it." She turned to Warner. "You ready?"

"Wait," Giles said. "What are you going to do with them?"

"Don't worry, we'll take care of them." Warner paused, half inside the car. "Probably put 'em on a bus or plane." He turned to Hollis. "I like the bus. Knock 'em both out, put on a Greyhound headed for North Dakota."

"Or Mississippi," she replied.

"Oh yeah." He pointed at her, then turned back to the Watcher. "Listen, Mr. Giles, I know this is a lot to have thrown at you in one night, but I think it's best if we all scatter. Tell you what, we'll stop by the library tomorrow and debrief, okay?"

"I supposed," Giles mumbled.

"Great, see you then." Warner slammed the door and Hollis pulled away from the curb, leaving Giles standing on the sidewalk, shivering from pent-up adrenaline as the dew soaked into his shoes.


Willow kicked off her covers and got out of bed. She reached for the lamp but pulled her hand back. She walked to the French doors and looked out at the darkness instead.

She had come home, done her homework, talked to Oz on the phone, and gone to bed convinced that what she was calling 'the experiment' was a mistake. Except that now she felt a strange sensation somewhere in her brainpan. Willow remembered the time Buffy had talked her into trying chocolate-covered coffee beans at Java the Hut at the mall. The bitterness of the initial taste made Willow gag, but then the tempting aftertaste bloomed. Now she was experiencing the psychic equivalent.

She moved slightly, her focus shifted, and she caught sight of her ghostly reflection in the glass. She stared at the spectral image as a thought, no, more a rudimentary glimmer of an itch began to tickle her mid-brain. What would it be like to do it again?


Cordelia Chase wore a French-blue poplin shirt with white collar and cuffs and immaculate navy slacks. A white tennis sweater with navy piping was slung around her shoulders. She was very serious. "I'm telling you, we have got to be sharper. We're stumbling around out there now like something out of Fantasia."

Melanie Parrish shook her head. "We're fine."

"No, we're not." Cordelia tilted her head forward, staring at the other girl. "Fine is not good. It's average with attitude."

"Whatever." Melanie smirked as she hitched up her backpack. "If you don't chill they're going to make a Showtime movie about you."

Cordelia's lips tightened and she held her head as though her bangs might be used as weapons. "I know we're all still over the rainbow about the football team, but football's over. It's basketball season now and the team is ubersuck. We are the only reason some people have for coming to the games." She held a finger up in front of Melanie's face and the other girl took a step back, startled. "We were part of something bigger during football season. It was easy then, but now, we have to stand on our own two feet. We can't just cheer for winning. We have to cheer for pride."

There was a concerned look on Melanie's face as she muttered, "As God is my witness, I'll never go hungry again."

Cordelia took a breath to continue her rant, but her eyes flicked to the side and caught a glimpse of Xander walking toward them. In a split-second Cordelia's stomach felt fluttery and hollow. She swallowed and said, "Just be ready to do better, okay?"

Melanie rolled her eyes. "Yes, mein Fuhrer," she said under her breath as she walked away. Cordelia turned to meet Xander.

"Cor," Xander said as he came to a stop in front of her, "we need to talk."

Cordelia held up her hands. "Xander, I am so sorry about last night."

"Yeah, well, you should be. I thought sitting around by myself at the Bronze was humiliating before, but now I know there's a whole new level to be reached." He had a full head of steam and he was determined to use it before he stared too long into those hazel eyes and just melted.

"I said I'm sorry. Something came up and I didn't have a chance to call."

Xander feigned surprise. "That's it? That's supposed to make everything all better?" He shook his head. "I thought you'd have a better story."

Cordelia's voice acquired a dangerous edge. "It's not a story. It's the truth."

"Come on. I waited for three hours. You couldn't find a phone once?" Xander looked away. "You know what really makes this sting? I believe you. I think something did come up, but I don't think you couldn't call me. I just think you didn't."

"What are you saying?"

Xander took a deep breath. "I think I was pretty blunt. Cor, have you ever needed me?"

"What?" She looked puzzled.

"When this... thing started, I'll admit it was mostly about groping each other in the supply closet. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy that, and I'd like to do it again some day--"

"So what's stopping you?" Cordelia demanded.


Cordelia rolled her eyes. "If you ever, ever breathe a word of this to anyone, I will kill you in the slowest, most disgusting manner possible." She glanced down at the floor. "I enjoyed that too, but for the last couple of months I might as well have been dating one of the guys from Will and Grace."

Xander pointed to his own chest. "I was trying to back off and be a gentleman."

"Back off? Why?" Cordelia had that look on her face, the one that said 'Have you stopped taking your medication?'

"Because of what happened last fall. Buffy said--"

"Buffy said?" Cordelia's eyes widened in fury. "You talked to Buffy about us?"

"What?" Xander asked as he tried to pull his head into his shoulders like a turtle. "I needed to talk to somebody."

"And you just happened to talk to Buffy." Cordelia crossed her arms and her chin jutted out. "You had to humiliate me, is that it?"

"What are you--"

"What was the plan, Xander? Impress her with what a sensitive guy you are, let her see how well you're treating the emotionally fragile? How noble you are for thinking of my feelings?" Cordelia's eyes snapped.

"Hey," Xander said, stung by her words, "I'm not the one with more barriers than a NASCAR track when it comes to sex." He closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. That was stupid and wrong."

"Yeah, it was." Cordelia shook her head to straighten her hair. "So, did Buffy sympathize with your plight? Did you talk about what might have happened to me?" She glared at him. "For your information, yes, what happened last fall was bad, but that's not the problem. In fact, he didn't do anything to me that I haven't done for you." She wanted the words back even as they passed her lips.

Xander flushed. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out. He tried again. "Okay, I don't have much experience here, but I think this is where we walk away before we say something we regret." He took two steps backwards, his eyes on the floor. "I'll see you at lunch, okay?" He turned and shambled down the hall, gaze still downcast. Cordelia stood in the middle of the hall, chin high, watching until he turned the corner. Then she went to the girls' restroom, locked herself in a stall, and cried.